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About Klavier

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  • Connection to/interest in ballet** (Please describe. Examples: fan, teacher, dancer, writer, avid balletgoer)
    Fan, balletgoer
  • City**
    New York City area
  • State (US only)**, Country (Outside US only)**
    New York
  1. With the recession, I haven't been going much to either concerts or ballet this year, and most of my discretionary income has been going to build up my modest little art collection. This year I've seen only the Dancers' Choice at NYCB (much more cohesive than last year's, and a good opportunity for some unsung dancers to shine), the last Midsummernight's Dream on Sunday 6/21 (I think I lucked out with one of the better casts), and this. I decided that rather than see one of the veteran Big Gun teams, it would be more interesting to see this pair of newcomers. I sat a little too close in center orchestra row F, which sounds great on paper but because the auditorium is not raked or the seats well-staggered at that point, it presents sight-line problems if someone even a little on the tall side is ahead of you, and I'm of moderate height (5'9"). I occasionally missed some feet for the heads in front of me, but acoustically it's an excellent spot, and the orchestra sounded pretty good. Having read some complaints here about them, I was prepared for the worst, but there were no major problems. Announced cast changes included Daniil Simkin replacing Jared Matthew as Benvolio. I had heard a lot about him but never seen him before. Tiny little fellow. But he certainly can command a stage, with crisp, precise movements and an engaging presence. As a dance performance, excellent; as a characterization of Shakespeare's Benvolio, nicht so gut. Benvolio (= good will) in the play is the peacemaker, and Daniil was a bit too brash and bravura. He really ought to be seen as Mercutio, where I'm sure he could have nailed the part at least as well as the excellent Craig Salstein. Sorry if I can't share the general awe over Freddie Franklin. He did what he did perfectly well, and I hope I'm 10% as good when I'm 95, but I was just not as wowed by it all as some others were. I was amused by the comment above on Hammoudi's Paris. I felt the same two years ago when seeing the impossibly handsome Grant deLong in the part. But that's just the point. Shakespeare could have portrayed Paris as something of a villain (like Tybalt, executed with perfect malice by Saveliev); instead, he made Paris a model Renaissance gentleman, in contrast to the far more passionate and hot-headed Romeo. Both young leads did very well. This time youth paid off, though of the two, I would probably give the palm to Hee Seo's lyrical, sweet Juliet. Or rather, I would say that she was most effective in her earlier scenes (her first scene was well-nigh perfect), and he gave his strongest performance in the final tomb scene. It is extremely difficult for either lead to get all elements just right. Both lovers are extremely difficult to perform (in the play) because they are transformed overnight from a callow boy and docile girl to two adults of glowing passion. In the play, in fact, Juliet's transformation is even more remarkable than Romeo's. Despite his killing of Tybalt, despite her parents, despite her devoted Nurse, she emerges as fiercely, almost savagely loyal to her young husband and actively hostile to all who oppose him. Here Seo had some trouble really conveying Juliet's maturation, but the fault is less her own than the ballet's clumsy scenario. Complaints have been registered about the harlots, the sword-fighting, and other time-wasting elements. (At least we were spared a quintet of boys in the dramatically superfluous Mandolin number.) But the real problem with the scenario is that so many elements of the play that follow the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt are passed over in the ballet. In the ballet, 2/3 is over at this point; in the play, we have half to go. And so in the ballet we see nothing of Juliet's reaction to Tybalt's death, of her rejection of the Nurse ("Ancient damnation!" - take note, Mr. Martins), of Romeo's attempt at suicide in the Friar's cell, of the Friar's failed attempt to send a messenger to the exiled Romeo in Mantua, of Romeo's purchase of the poison from the wonderfully ghoulish Apothecary, of the Friar's plan to rescue Juliet from the tomb, of the feuding families' final reconciliation, and more. All of these events and miscarriages in Shakespeare deepen the sense of tragedy and doom. But Act Three of the ballet rarely gets beyond the lyrical. And since the scenario in so many other ways stays close to Shakespeare, these lapses are the more frustrating, giving the main characters only limited opportunity to grow and evolve. But what a relief after the Peter Martins travesty to see actual sets, as well as costumes that look like Renaissance Italy. You could even tell the Montagues and the Capulets apart. Despite any lapses, it's a powerful staging, and there is always that great Prokofiev score.
  2. 1) Croce's point, it seems to me, is quite different from your point about Harlequinade. There's a difference between saying that there are dead or weak spots that can be cut from a score in a particular production, and saying that the work just feels long and perhaps any 15 minutes could be trimmed from a performance, but not the same 15 minutes each time. Yes, it's long, but the point I've been trying to make is that while Robbins could have followed Glenn Gould and set the whole thing at about 40 minutes without repeats, the use of repeats is integral to his conception, as he invariably sets each of the repeated sections to different choreography. And so while we're hearing AABB in each variation, we're simultaneously seeing something like ABCD, thus creating a very interesting counterpoint between dance and music. (I think I've given my answer to your point about the work's integrity just now.) 2) What an audience can or can't tell varies enormously among audience members. I'm sure that many people posting here with decades of ballet experience can see aspects of performance that elude me; in turn, having 30+ years of experience listening to the GV has given me a perspective others may not have. Could most spectators discern that this was a single work by a single composer? I think so, as each variation is in the same key and maintains the overall phrase structure of the theme. If one feels negatively about the work, you might consider it monotonous; if you do respond to it, you sense an overall cumulative momentum that takes place over the long span of the composition. One starts to sense the repeated binary construction of each variation, and if another pattern were to be interpolated, like a minuet-trio-minuet, I think it would be immediately sensed as foreign to the basic pattern and style of the work. And I think it fairly easy to discern that some of the variations are brilliant virtuosic pieces, some are imitative (canons and fugues), some are slow expressive arias - and the most expressive aria of all comes in #25, which Robbins naturally set as a pas de deux for the most mature female and male dancers. Of course, the more familiar one is with the GV, the more these characteristics will become obvious. But that's true of any work of art. 3) Please don't get me wrong. Cameron Grant is a very capable pianist, possibly the best piano soloist at NYCB. I've heard him do better (e.g., the Bartok 3rd in Evenfall). He was very effective in the many highly animated portions of the work. Where he fell short in my opinion was in the more expressive slower sections, where I heard very little of the inflection and phrasing that some other performers have brought to this music. Try for instance Charles Rosen's recording for a very different experience of #25; inexpensive used copies of his version are easy to find on Amazon.
  3. I would look at Tripadvisor.com. I wish I could have recommended my favorite Paris hotel from about 12 years ago, the Frémiet in the 16th arrondisement, but it's changed hands and become this exhorbitantly priced boutique thing called the Hotel Sezz. But one property I saw that is quite inexpensive is the Hotel Perfect in Montmartre. It sounds like a cross between a hostel and a hotel, but the price looks right.
  4. The beauty of his playing was not in doubt. But in regards to "shortening" the Goldbergs, are you suggesting that Robbins should have done so, or that Robbins's completed work should now be edited? And if either of these is the case, exactly how and where? Or is the problem with Bach's original structure, in your opinion? Since you are a pianist, I expect you know that Bach created a highly symmetrical structure in the GV - theme; 30 variations divided into two sections of 15 each, and 10 groups of three variations following the pattern of virtuoso toccata, free form piece, and canon. What could be sacrificed without violating the symmetries Bach wrote into the music?
  5. The problem, though, is that it really can’t. Bach wrote the Goldbergs as 30 variations on a theme that is of course heard both at the beginning and the end of the work, and each of the variations is in two sections that are both repeated. Bach did not conceive the GV for public performance, and it was not played complete until the early 19th century, at which time, ETA Hoffmann records, only one person stayed through to the end. Today pianists have three options: take none of the repeats (as Glenn Gould does in his 1955 recording, which weighs in at 38 minutes), take repeats selectively (as Gould did in his 1981 remake, about 51 minutes), or take them all, which makes for a long work of about 80 minutes – just right for a full-length piano recital, as Murray Perahia did at Avery Fisher about 10 years ago. This gives each variation a 4-part structure: AABB. Amanda Vaill says in her biography that Robbins took all the repeats, but that was not exactly true at Sunday’s matinee: #16, the Overture starting Part II, had no repeats; #25, the long slow adagio pas de deux, was played without repeats; and so was the restatement of the theme. I think, but am not positive, that #27, the last of the canons, was also cut, so that following the pas de deux we get three virtuoso variations keeping the momentum going until the finale Quodlibet. Whether Robbins choreographed all the repeated sections originally I can’t say; if so, #25 would have been about 8-9 minutes long in itself. But to come around to my point, in deciding to keep all or most of the repeats, Robbins set himself the challenge of finding contrasting but complementary variants for each of the repeated sections. For example in #13, the Adagio quartet near the end of Part I, AAB conclude with the two sets of partners in close position at the middle of the stage, where the repetition of B finds them exiting in open position at the four corners of the stage. There are probably many moments of this type, and it would take a recording to let me sit down and analyze all the permutations. At the same time, Robbins continually reveals himself listening to Bach and responding musically: the little four-part fugue #10 is set as a quartet of boys imitating each other, with amusing leapfrog rollovers; the fast little trills of #14 have Adam Hendrickson (in a superb performance) jumping with little beats; in the canon at the sixth, #18, Wendy Whelan and Ben Millipied are seen in playful hip waggling to mirror the imitative texture of the music. The most exhilarating section, however, is the final Quodlibet, variation 30, which Robbins treats as the climax of the work before it dissolves into the repetition of the theme. Here, in this mixture of several folksongs, Robbins brings back his entire cast in splendid 18th-century costume, and finds all kinds of complex group movements before ending in a diagonal tableau at the final cadence. I have seen this work only twice, once three years ago, and this moment was as stunning now as it was then. GV is such an ensemble piece that it’s hard to single out any one dancer. But as a musically inclined person I must offer some mixed reactions to Cameron Grant’s pianism. Anyone who knows this music first-hand knows it requires extreme virtuosity. The obvious rapid figuration is only part of it; however, the real technical difficulty comes with mastering the numerous passages that call for intricate hand-crossing. This is more a problem for the piano than for Bach’s original harpsichord, as he expected a 2-manual keyboard where the hand-crossings would not have been an issue. It is playable on the piano all the same, and anyone who can master it technically deserves applause. Grant was more than equal to the technical demands, but tempos in a number of the variations, such as #15, the slow movement in G minor, tended to be quite slow, and I don’t know if this is what Robbins wanted or what Grant worked out with the dancers. But even that wouldn’t have been a problem had Grant found more dynamic inflection in the music. Playing the same Kawai grand on which Richard Moredock two nights ago had banged out Chopin’s B minor scherzo, Grant’s tone was infinitely more refined; but in the more emotional slow variations he did little more than competently play the notes. As many modern recordings will demonstrate, there’s a lot more to say with this music. Following intermission (at last! some no doubt thought), we had the Brahms Handel Variations in Edmund Rubbra’s dreadful, unidiomatic orchestration. This Robbins-Tharp effort looked promising at first, with a striking blue background and exciting blue costumes. And then exciting green costumes. I could have lived without it. Compared to the mature mastery of the Goldbergs, the whole thing looked unsettled. The set and costumes grew tiresome after a while. Once the Green Team entered carrying Wendy Whelan aloft, I just turned off and wished I had left at the break, with only the memory of Bach’s glorious music and Robbins’s glorious choreography to take with me into the rain.
  6. I haven't yet read Lobenthal, but regarding the photos, "pornographic" seems too strong a word for me. Still, I do think the photos are a bit too self-consciously "arty," and their carefully composed symmetries deprive them of any sense of spontaneity. E.g: parallel to the much-discussed ballerinas photo, he has one in which 24 shirtless men clad solely in tights are shot from above lying on their backs on a marble floor - I can't identify this particular location. And though this pose does not look as agonizing as lying over three seats in the orchestra section, the floor does look cold and uncomfortable. The outer group of 8 are taken with their limbs close to their bodies; the limbs of the inner group of 16 are spread out to look like X's. I can't identify most of the dancers. Whatever else, this photo certainly minimizes the dancers' individualities and makes them look more like elements in a design. And elements of a design, rather than strong individuality, is what one senses in many large ensembles in ballet, such as the conclusion of Symphony in C. The question is whether this use of photography undermines Froman's apparent attempt to make us think of the dancers as people - which he does very successfully through both words and pictures in his published book.
  7. Carbro, did you see my comment on this photo in one of my previous posts?
  8. I think the first Dancers' Emergency Fund Benefits were held when Balanchine was still alive. Someone please correct me if I'm mistaken. Undoubtedly true. My point was that this was the first to be a "dancer's choice" ("an evening showing such initiative on the dancers' parts").
  9. I thought the Hendrickson/Severini ballet was a well-crafted if not strikingly individual effort. Aaron Severini's music is more notable for motoric energy than lyricism; I can't say it struck me as particularly memorable in itself, but it did move the action along - musique dansante for our 21st century. The lighting and staging were quite effective - a red-orange background with the two black grand pianos (expertly played, Stephen Gosling being one of the best-known performers of modern piano music working in NY today) situated facing the rear wall, and the four boys clad in black. Was it a coincidence that three of these four were Romeos from last year's extravaganza (Seth Orza having departed)? Don't know, but the plot seemed to involve Sean Suozzi (a personal favorite or mine) breaking away from his buddies to be drawn into romance, then losing the girl, then getting her again. I rather liked the ballet without being overwhelmed (and please don't ask me what the title means), but more charming was the little film of Adam and Aaron shown before their piece started. And certainly one of the higher points of the night was the other little film showing NYCB stars when they were very young. The Fairchild and Stafford siblings, the team of Sara Mearns and Christian Tworzyanski (who knew they were an item at age 10?), and more. Although I couldn't catch all the words, it was very funny and sweet, and led naturally into that finale of finales, the Bizet Symphony - after which everybody who had taken part that evening (Peter Martins conspicuously absent) crowded the stage and we all got out about 10 minutes to 11. Leaving the theater, I spotted a few rows behind me a certain well-known, tall, blond, American danseur noble who plies his trade at the other opera house 90 degrees from the State, and I wondered if an evening showing such initiative on the dancers' parts and overall warmth of feeling between dancers and audience could have taken place at ABT. Or, for that matter, at NYCB if Balanchine had still been around. For this, I think we have to thank the sometimes maligned Peter Martins as much as anybody. (Back tomorrow to talk about the Goldberg Variations.)
  10. Entirely possible, perfectly reasonable, and that thought had not occurred to me (nor did Martins make that point). But to continue, one of the nicer aspects of the evening is that a number of the younger people were given a chance to take the spotlight, and I'd like to think the absence of many of the principals (Evans, Whelan, Millepied, Borree, N. Martins, DeLuz, Askegard, Kowroski) might have been intended for them to give more attention to their less high-ranking colleagues. And so we saw relatively unfamiliar talent like Troy Schumacher and Gretchen Smith in featured roles, along with many more conspicuous names. And of course if everybody had danced we'd be all going home at 1 in the morning, and all the profits would be eaten up by time and a half for the orchestra and stagehands. Of course, some of the dancers took off-stage roles too as their contributions to the evening. Among the most conspicuous was Kyle Froman, who already has published a refreshingly candid photobook of a day in the life of a dancer, with Martins's evident approval. As we all walked into the theatre, each of the four entryways was populated not only by a ticket taker (I usually give mine to the amiable short bald fellow at orchestra right) but by a boy and girl apprentice or corps members who delivered us a booklet of Kyle's latest photos. These are more self-consciously arty than the candids in his earlier book, but some of the images are striking indeed: most notably, two dozen ballerinas all in white lying face up (in what looks like an agonizing position) along the plush red-lined seats at the rear of the orchestra section, with one more female dancer sitting more normally in the first ring. Accompanying this is a caption from Jerome Robbins, "Wait a minute. These are people. They're not objects" - highly ironic, as "objects" are exactly what the photo conveys, with minimal individualization among these dancers and a pose no normal person would ever take voluntarily. Or perhaps the implication is: "Don't conclude too readily that these are just beautiful objects. Each one has a personality you don't know or see." The caption makes a decidedly odd photograph look tantalizingly ambiguous. (I'll stop here and post before continuing.)
  11. Just to start: This was an event that would have been well worth while even if most things had not gone so well. Drb has already covered the least successful aspect of the evening quite successfully, that is, the 15 minutes of speechifying between Peter Martins and Jonathan Stafford, and put his finger on the odd discrepancy between previous benefits that had lost money while this one was expected to make money with tickets at half price. Hopefully NYCB has worked all this out with the accountants, and perhaps the Silent Auction was expected to draw enough donors with deep pockets to have turned the tide. The other slightly off-putting admission on Martins's part was that he insisted the dancers choose works from City Ballet's existing repertory. Why, really? What if Andrew Veyette wants nothing more than to dance Death from The Green Table (hey, you never know)? Should he be denied? And if the dancers could only choose from existing NYCB repertory, how come we got a world premiere from the team of Hendrickson and Severini? Ours is not to reason why. That said, much of the dancing was on a very high level, even though ironically - given NYCB's range of some 238 ballets - quite a few ballets chosen were the same fare one could see in many a recent season: Jewels, Symphony in C, Square Dance, Dances at a Gathering, Union Jack, Stars and Stripes - nothing very unusual there. The opening sequence matched Daniel Ulbricht with Ashley Bouder and Ellen Bar in one movement from Rubies, and although technically they were all impressive - especially Danny's accelerating pirouette exit to stage right - I didn't sense the kind of chemistry between the two principals that I had when seeing Ashley dance this role with Benjamin Millepied. Male-female chemistry was much more in evidence in three pas de deux that provided the emotional intensity of the evening: first Janie Taylor and Craig Hall in Martins's Purple, then Sara Mearns and Stephen Hanna in the Martins Beethoven Romance, and last but perhaps best of all, Abi Stafford and Tyler Angle in the slow movement from Wheeldon's Mercurial Manoeuvres, the "lesser-known" ballet I would most want to see again. (More later tonight, on Hendrickson/Severini, Savannah and Troy, and Kyle Froman's photobook.)
  12. I have it on good authority that the real Prodigal was quite short, and his rebelliousness was a direct consequence of his feelings of inferiority about his height.
  13. This was a program that might have been better for the City Center season rather than the Met. Word of mouth (or bad reviews) must have gotten out, because I have rarely seen so many empty seats at the Met on a Saturday night (even when the bill of fare is Wozzeck or Moses und Aron). Whoever said (carbro, I think) that Etudes should be re-orchestrated is exactly right; in fact, better to have played these Czerny pieces on a solo piano as written. The orchestration was positively ugly; the dancing - well, Reyes, Radesky, and Ilyin did all they could with these not very coherent little snippets. Viewed from the Dress Circle, the (unintentionally) funniest thing was when the corps girls alternated black and white tutus on a diagonal to upstage left; all I could think of were black-and-white cookies. But this was the better of the two halves. I had not read any exposition of Tharp's "meaning" in constructing Rabbit and Rogue before seeing the piece, and I would like to think a viewer can grasp something of the narrative of a ballet without having to be told in a program note or review. But despite the laudable contributions of Stiefel, Cornejo, Hallberg, Gillian Murphy, Salstein, Herrera, and Saveliev, I could make nothing out of the piece. Stiefel and Cornejo butt heads once in a while, yet somehow they emerge friends at the end; Salstein keeps running around for no apparent reason; the boys take off their shirts (was it the 98 degree heat?); two other couples come in and out; and the whole confusing thing is done to Danny Elfman's generic, derivative music. Phooey. I like Tharp in a full-throttle piece like Upper Room, but this was too long and drawn out, without the driving energy she shows in the earlier piece, and if there was a story I couldn't find it. This is my only time seeing ABT this season; there are just so many of these evening-length 19-century blockbusters I can take, and I was hoping this would be a refreshing alternative. I shoulda stuck with Swan Lake.
  14. I'll say some more tomorrow myself. Busy day today. I thought it was quite a special night at NYCB.
  15. But no thoughts from you, drb, about that thrilling Les Noces?
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